On a beautiful spring day in May 2019, back when it was still possible to have in-person meetings, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation welcomed practitioners from various regions of the globe for a writer’s workshop.
The participants in the workshop were all contributors to the Foundation’s 2019 publication Dialogue in Peacebuilding: Understanding Different Perspectives (Development Dialogue, volume 64).
They had come to Uppsala to share their experiences and exchange methods for strengthening the promotion and facilitation of dialogue in peacebuilding.
As the discussions proceeded, it became apparent that the cultural contexts with which we identify have a profound impact on how we understand and implement dialogue.
What about this word, ‘dialogue’?
The word ‘dialogue’ comes from the Greek dialogos, which is a combination of two words: dia, meaning ‘through’, and logos, which translates as ‘word’ or ‘meaning’. In English, this word, ‘dialogue’, is often used interchangeably with terms such as ‘discussion’ or ‘debate’.
But most peacebuilding practitioners would agree that what distinguishes dialogue from other forms of communication is a focus on exchanging perspectives: increasing mutual understanding, building trust, strengthening relationships.
While practitioners may disagree on whether dialogue should focus on processes or on outcomes; and on how—or by whom—dialogue is best conducted, there is general agreement that its aim is not to convince others or to win an argument.
Translating dialogue across languages
What happens, then, when we move from English into other languages? What words are used to capture the meaning of dialogue and what connotations do these words have?
These questions are not exactly new. They have been raised in many different contexts, over a long period of time.
In the case of the Foundation’s work on dialogue, it has been the subject of numerous discussions, first in preparing the Development Dialogue volume on dialogue in peacebuilding, and then following its release, via round-table sessions in different contexts as shared in this blog series.
In just a few weeks from now, the Foundation, together with EcoPeace Middle East, will be launching an Arabic translation of the volume.
In preparation for the release of the translation, we reached out to several contributors to the original publication, as well as to alumni from a training programme we organise together with Uppsala University, who are working to promote dialogue in different regions of the world.
We asked them about the words that are used in their respective contexts to express the meaning of dialogue and the different connotations these words have in society.
Their responses, summarised below, create an intriguing sketch of the impact of language on approaches to dialogue across the globe.
‘Hiwar’: the word for dialogue in Arabic
Shirine Jurdi is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional representative for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and a MENA regional liaison officer for the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.
Yana Abu Taleb is the Jordanian Director for EcoPeace Middle East.
The Arabic word that best conveys the meaning of dialogue in the context of peacebuilding is hiwar.
This word implies an interactive conversation between two or more people with an open mindset, who are driven by a desire to seek the truth in relation to the issue at hand. When you say hiwar, it means that there is some kind of give and take in the discussions.
The term hiwar can be used in many different situations. It can be applied to dialogue on religious, social, political, economic and security issues, or to any other topic of mutual interest among discussants.
When you say hiwar, it means that there is some kind of give and take in the discussions.
While hiwar refers to an informal discussion between two or more people, the word muhadathat can carry a connotation of more formal negotiations.
The word hiwar can also be contrasted with another Arabic term, jedal, which implies a conversation between two or more people but is closer in meaning to arguing with the mindset of winning rather than being open to the other point of view.
In general, hiwar is more commonly associated with honesty and open mindedness while jedal is associated with stubbornness, attachments and controversy.
‘Hurukuro’ or ‘nhauriranwa’? Words that describe dialogue in Zimbabwe
Mutsa Mugangavari is a Humanitarian Affairs Advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Southern Africa, and a visiting fellow in the Faculty of Law at Rhodes University, South Africa.
In Shona, which is one of the official languages in Zimbabwe, the word for dialogue could be either hurukuro or nhauriranwa. The best translation for these words is ‘talks’.
As far as I know, the language does not have a word that reflects the subtle nuances between the English words dialogue and discussions. But what is interesting about hurukuro and nhauriranwa is that there is an underlying connotation of elders being the ones speaking.
The reason is simply because in our way of life, important decisions are made by the elders in the community and not by young people. So, if you wanted to talk about dialogue among youth and you use the word hurukuro, a listener would understand what you mean, but it’s not a concept that falls comfortably on Shona ears.
So, if you wanted to talk about dialogue among youth and you use the word ‘hurukuro‘, a listener would understand what you mean, but it’s not a concept that falls comfortably on Shona ears.
This is not to say that there are no platforms where different age groups can participate. There is for example a dare which is a sort of traditional court that could involve young people though still led by elders.
What is interesting about many Southern Africans of my generation is that with globalization a lot of our ways have been diluted. So, the idea of youth dialoguing (a traditionally foreign concept in Shona) is not totally foreign to us today. But, when said in our language, it just sounds weird.
So, I believe these subtle nuances continue to exist and while Africa is making strides regarding youth participation and youth dialogue, these advances are best understood against the cultural background.
‘Chai Pe Charcha’ and conversations on tea in India
Ankita Gupta is a peacebuilding practitioner, whose work as a Regional Program Officer with Jesuit Refugee Service focuses on peace and reconciliation efforts in South Asia. Ankita is a recent alumna of the International Training on Dialogue and Mediation (ITDM) programme, offered by the Foundation in partnership with Uppsala University.
In Hindi, the word for dialogue is Chai Pe Charcha, which translated literally means having conversation on tea, or baat cheet, meaning chit-chat.
In India, it is traditional for people to have conversations over tea. Dialogue here is more of an informal thing, but even in informal settings people tend to talk about politics and social issues. This tradition goes back to the colonial era, when political freedom fighters like my grandfather would sit together with a cup of tea and come up with plans to overcome colonial oppression.
The tradition of dialogue is now reflected in the country’s local governance system, in which village leaders are empowered to converse with people to resolve socio-political or economic concerns, including conflicts. This also allows for the needs of marginalised groups and rural communities to be addressed.
The tradition of dialogue is now reflected in [India’s] local governance system, in which village leaders are empowered to converse with people to resolve socio-political or economic concerns, including conflicts.
While Hindi is the most commonly spoken language in India, there are also a lot of regional languages. Regardless of which language is used, dialogue is intrinsic in the Indian context. In Bhojpuri, batiyana refers to a candid conversation but with the intent of having some kind of outcome. In Assamese, kothupokothon or kotha pata is used for more candid conversations but xonglaap has a deeper meaning in terms of outcome.
The history of India has always been one in which people were politically engaged. However, this culture of dialogue around politics is decreasing. Now, there is a sense of dialogue being more like a conversation with likeminded people, rather than leading to greater understanding across divides.
Talking about dialogue in the Philippines
Mario Aguja, another ITDM alumnus, is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Mindanao State University–General Santos City and has spent much of his career actively supporting dialogue in the Philippines.
The Philippines is a culturally and linguistically diverse country. Its 7,461 islands are home to more than 100 million people composed of 110 ethnolinguistic groups. The dominant word in the country for dialogue is the Tagalog word diayalogo (based on the Spanish diálogo) or pag-uusap.
Among the Muslim Filipinos in the southern Philippines, the words bitiala (among the Maguindanaoan) and bitiyalan (among the Maranaos) capture the essence of dialogue. For the Tausugs the equivalent is pagbisarahan.
These words all generally refer to conversation. However, they take on a special meaning in the context of conflict, where they connote finding a resolution to misunderstandings or differences.
The term diayalogo connotes the presence of a third party that serves as facilitator or mediator. It is often the third party that initiates the dialogue or upon others’ prodding due to the facilitator’s communal stature. In the southern Philippines, where kinship and hierarchy are valued, the process is often facilitated by clan elders. It takes the shape of a communal endeavour.
The term diayalogo connotes the presence of a third party that serves as facilitator or mediator. It is often the third party that initiates the dialogue or upon others’ prodding due to the facilitator’s communal stature.
Numerous violent conflicts have been avoided or settled in the past because of dialogo, tong-tongan, panaghisgutanay,husay, bitiara/bitiyara and pagbissarahan. Dialogue continues to be the most preferred communal tool to resolve conflicts in Philippine society today.
‘Minga’, cooperative work and dialogue in Latin America
Luis Eduardo Calpa is a Colombian social researcher based in Nariño. Borja Paladini Adell is a peacebuilding practitioner and a PhD candidate at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.
In Latin America, particularly in the Andean regions of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Perú, a minga, from the Quechua language, is a form of cooperative work in which communities work together to achieve collective interests and support particular needs of its members (e.g. harvesting the crops).
In the southern regions of Colombia, meanwhile, the concept has evolved into a new idea: minga de pensamiento or ‘minga of thought’. Using this practice, communities and organisations meet together to reflect and define together collective needs and interests.
It is a generative and horizontal dialogue, which starts with listening and exchanging opinions, that aspires to generate proposals for the buen vivir (‘good living’) of the collective.
A minga, from the Quechua language, is a form of cooperative work in which communities work together to achieve collective interests and support particular needs of its members (e.g. harvesting the crops).
Often a minga takes place around a community outdoor stove or tulpa. In this space, participants discuss, reflect and think together to define priorities and plans for their communities, over traditional cuisine and preparations.
La minga de pensamiento is a space where collective wisdom arises from the collective praxis, intertwining ancestral memories with analysis of present challenges and shared visions for the future.
A minga de pensamiento, in this sense, is a way to strengthen participation and subsequently the political organisation, the family, the community.
Often this type of exchange takes place between different ethnic communities and groups to foster intercultural dialogue where all think together and coordinate efforts. This kind of dialogue between groups is referred to as a mindala.
All these cultural and political practices emphasise the importance of reciprocity throughout dialogue.
Only 6000+ languages to go!
While estimates of the number of languages spoken in the world today vary, the number is probably at least 6,000—some even say the true figure is over 7,000.
While the words for dialogue discussed in this post demonstrate the richness and diversity of dialogue as a mechanism for peacebuilding, they therefore only capture a small snapshot of how dialogue is conceptualised across the globe.
So, in order to continue to learn from one another and further the conversation on how dialogue is used in various contexts to promote peace, we want to hear from you.
What word or words do you use in your own language to express the meaning of dialogue? What connotation do these words have?
In our latest blog post, we ask seven #peacebuilding practitioners to talk about the words they use to describe #dialogue in their languages. What words do you use to describe the concept of dialogue? Let us know by replying to this tweet! (1/7)https://t.co/JuxEnLiNoI pic.twitter.com/KqNO3I0ofz
— Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation (@DagHammarskjold) October 13, 2020